Networking: Use it to your Advantage

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Not all that long ago, college students were actively recruited before graduation. Interested employers found students themselves, and worked hard to attract students’ interest in their company.

Today, that isn’t the case. In the current job market, it’s the student’s responsibility to recruit themselves. That means students have to put themselves out there and make sure that prospective employers know who they are and what skills and knowledge they could bring to a potential position. The easiest and smartest way to do that is through in-person and social networking.

How do I Network?

As a member of society, you have been networking your entire life. In high school your focus was on making friends. Through classes, social media websites, organizations, and acquaintances you got to know other people and developed strong personal relationships.

Now, as a college student, you need to do the exact same thing, but your focus needs to shift. Instead of making friends you need to be concerned about developing professional contacts and relationships. People need to know who you are as an employee: what skill sets you have, what your goals are, and what activities you’re involved in. You need to market yourself as a “brand,” based on your skills and knowledge.

Where do I Start?

During freshman year, you’re naturally going to focus on making friends and getting to know the people in your university, but once you choose a major you should get started on networking professionally.

The simplest way to start is through your professors and students in your major. Get to know them. Many professors have contacts that use professor’s knowledge of students to find employees, and you could easily be that student. Plus, you never know what resources and job openings students and professors in your field may be aware of. Your classmate could be the one to reccomend you for an open position in their company. So don’t hesitate. Talk to everyone around you.

What Roles do Organizations Play?

While professors and students are excellent resources, they’re not the only sources of information. Join student organizations with a focus in your field of study. For instance, if you’re in public relations join PRSSA, which helps students meet professionals in their field and get real career experience.

Also, take advantage of the opportunities available to you through activities and organizations that aren’t focused on your major. These activities will help you develop different contacts and learn about unique opportunities that not everyone knows about.  And, you never know when you’ll meet with a prospective employer who was a member of the same fraternity/sorority.

What about Social Networking?

Social Networking is just as important as networking in-person. Many companies run an online search of prospective employees; so you need to ensure that you have a professional presence online. Inappropriate photos or comments shouldn’t be easily accessible, and your public profile on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and other social networking sites should advertise your skills, knowledge, and professionalism.

Also, don’t neglect to take advantage of the opportunities that social networking offers you. Develop an online presence that showcases your strengths. Get your resume up on Linkedin, Monster, and other job networking sites and initiate online contact with professionals and employers in your field. You can even have current and former professors and employeers write recomendations that prospective employeers can instantly view. Whatever you do, make sure that you maintain a professional image online.

What about Career Fairs?

Even if you’re not ready for a position yet, you should attend every career fair in your area. While most recruiters just want students to submit their resume online and follow the same channels as everyone else, career fairs give you the chance to learn about employers and find avenues of opportunity that you may otherwise not be aware of.

As an added bonus, a recruiter may remember you and pull out your resume for consideration when they do receive it. Especially if you attend every event four years in a row.

What Else Should I Do?

The more involved you are in networking the better your career opportunities will be. Attend local events focused on your area of study and stay informed by reading journal articles and other professional publications. Don’t miss out on any opportunities to socialize with people in your field of interest; if they know your name, you’re a step above the rest.